“The final bill allows a beneficiary to participate in the act, even to lethally inject.”
As Canada’s Parliament legalized physician-assisted suicide, thousands of elderly Canadians have been “burdened with new fears about visiting their doctor or being admitted to the hospital,” said a senator from Alberta.
Sen. Betty E. Unger, a nurse-turned-politician, made a last-minute impassioned plea to her fellow senators to vote down Bill C-14, the Medical Assistance in Dying Act. She said that thousands of Canadians, particularly the aged and vulnerable, “beg us not to underestimate the harm that will follow when our hitherto dearly held values are being shredded.”
“In considering this legislation, we have dismissed so many safeguards that the innocent are certain to be killed,” Unger said on the Senate floor June 15. “Ignoring the lessons of history we elevate the right of the individual over the good of society.”
But parliamentarians were more concerned with hammering out details and reconciling bills passed in both chambers, and they delivered a final bill on June 17.
The new law, passed in response to an order of Canada’s Supreme Court, allows assisted suicide only for those facing imminent death. The Senate on Friday morning considered an amendment that would have referred the terminal illness provision in the bill (“natural death is reasonably foreseeable”) to the Supreme Court, but that amendment was defeated.
The controversial issue was the requirement that a medical or nurse practitioner could approve a lethal injection if the person’s “natural death is reasonably foreseeable,” explained Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the London, Ontario-based Euthanasia Prevention Council. Parliament insisted that this requirement remain in the bill while the Senate argued that the Supreme Court did not state that a person must be “terminally ill.” The final bill maintains that “natural death must be reasonably foreseeable.”
After the 44-28 Senate vote that passed the bill, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould suggested that there could be further revisions to the legislation. In a joint statement, the ministers said there will be further study of medical assistance in dying for “mature minors” and those for whom mental illness is the only underlying condition, Catholic News Agency reported.
Schadenberg was disappointed that House of Commons withdrew an amendment that prohibited a beneficiary from participating in a person’s assisted suicide or signing the person’s request for assisted death. “This was an amendment that protected people from a greedy beneficiary or an unscrupulous family member,” Schadenberg said in a statement. “The final bill allows a beneficiary to participate in the act, even to lethally inject.”
Trudeau’s government crafted the legislation in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s February 2015 decision striking down a ban on assisted suicide. The court gave the government until June 6 to have a law in place.
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto said that the Supreme Court decision “set our country down a path that leads not simply, and obviously, towards physical death for an increasing number of our fellow citizens, but towards a grim experience for everyone in our society of the coldness of spiritual death.
“That death is found in a loss of respect for the dignity of the human person, in a deadening pressure upon the vulnerable to be gone, and in an assault upon the sanctuary of conscience to be suffered by good individuals and institutions who seek only to heal,” Cardinal Collins said in a statement June 17.
The cardinal sought to reassure those who are suffering: “To those who are grievously suffering in body or spirit and who desperately seek relief: we need to be sure that you receive it, through whatever medical means are available, and through the loving care that you deserve,” he said. “The question is not whether you need relief; it is how to find it. Suicide is not the answer to the very real question you face.”